By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
Candidates for Washington posts often claim they will “reach across the aisle” and work with folks from the other party.
I can’t do much to foster such federal-level cooperation, but maybe I can make a case for more collaboration locally.
In my home turf, three local entities most directly affect people’s lives – Lafayette County, the City of Oxford, and the University of Mississippi.
County officials have varying levels of responsibility for rural roads, several courts, Extension Service and Health Department, waste disposal, emergency preparation, tax collections, death investigations and law enforcement, among many others.
City officials’ bailiwicks include streets, waste disposal, recycling, water and sewer service, historic preservation, building codes, zoning, beautification, traffic control and parking, law enforcement, municipal court, tourism, emergency management, parks and much more.
Even though the University of Mississippi is self-contained in some ways, where and how its students, employees and visitors shop, drive, play, volunteer, dine and vote impacts both other entities, and much of what happens on campus also wags the Lafayette-Oxford dog.
The three entities’ levels of cooperation vary with every issue, however. A few examples:
* Oxford-University Transit is a triumph for the city and Ole Miss, but the county pulled out in the early stages.
* The soon-to-be-expanded John Leslie Tennis Center is a fine example of three-way partnership, but years of rancor – city vs. county and county officials vs. residents – preceded the creation of Oxford-Lafayette Fields at FNC Park.
* The community needed a convention center, but probably not two: City officials might have nipped the Oxford Conference Center in the bud had they known university officials would soon be adding The Inn at Ole Miss.
* And over 15 years of covering all three entities, I’ve seen governing officials too often talk AT one another when they should have been talking TO one another.
A long-ignored suggestion bears repeating: The Board of Supervisors, the Board of Aldermen and the Ole Miss Executive Council ought each to invite representatives of the others to their meetings, and each entity needs to make attendance a priority. Occasionally it’ll be uncomfortable, but I’d bet the increased communication would solve many problems before they have time to grow.
And while universities add a complexity most communities don’t have, I’d also bet there’s not a county in Northeast Mississippi that wouldn’t benefit from similar reciprocity with its main town(s).
Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at firstname.lastname@example.org.